Friday, May 02, 2008

Bob Costas and Buzz Bissinger are Grumpy Old Men

The April 29, 2008 edition of HBO’s surprisingly boring Costas Now program became an embarrassing spectacle of whiny writers and broadcasters crying about the impact that sports bloggers have on their industry. It was actually a shocking display of curmudgeonly behavior by some of the sports journalists that many of us grew up watching on TV. It was also a reminder that the world is changing and rich, old, white guys never like that. The whole thing reminded me of how my grandfather believed Rock-n-Roll music would mean the end of the world and how my father thought the same thing about rap music.

Blogging is something new, and it’s something the old guys do not understand. They threw a shit-fit about how unprofessional the bloggers are and how objectionable the blogger’s material is. Nobody on the program suggested that the material they are referring to wasn’t intended for them. It is meant for a younger generation of sports fans that aren’t interested listening to old broadcasters mythologize athletes and cover-up their blemishes while treating sports as the most important thing in the world. The younger generation sees their sports stars as just people … absurdly wealthy and athletic people that should be celebrated when deserving and should be exposed when deserving. It's the reward and the price of fame. If Matt Leinart doesn’t want to be criticized for doing beer bongs with coeds, he shouldn’t do beer bongs with coeds. And that goes for Pacman Jones, Michael Vick, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and all the other huge-skulled juicers too.

The blogging generation won’t be the athlete’s enablers, and they have no incentive for that anyway. While Costas and his friends blather on and on about how lowbrow all sports blogs are, people like them still get to monopolize TV, print, and radio, every platform except the internet. Their livelihood is not threatened. So, if a blogger wants to sit at home and write about Leinart’s bad behavior and a twenty-something wants to go on-line and read about that instead of hearing Al Michaels talk about Y.A. Tittle during a modern football game, so be it, the world is changing and this is what the world wants, even if a bunch of elitist broadcasters hate it.

The worst example of an old sports guy having a meltdown over sports blogging came when Friday Night Lights author and angry douche-bag – Buzz Bissinger, appeared on Costas Now and lost his mind while attacking editor – Will Leitch. He accused Leitch of making a mockery of something as critically important as grown men playing children’s games for a living. Leitch was blindsided by all this, however. He went on the show to explain that sports bloggers write for a new breed of sports fans that have a different point-of-view from the average Sport’s Illustrated reader, but he almost had his mouth washed out with soap by the panel of angry grandfathers. He was expecting a civil discussion, but he walked into an attempted “blogger intervention”. The entire show was absurd.

Here’s a recap:

Costas introduced a round-table of Leitch, Bissinger, and NFL player – Braylon Edwards, who most likely kicked his agent’s ass afterwards for booking him on this show. Costas immediately accused sports blogs of being “mean-spirited”. Leitch tried to respond, but Bissinger abruptly interrupted and accused Leitch of being “full of shit”. He went on to say that sports blogs are dedicated to cruelty (not realizing that being rude to a fellow panelist on a TV show is also cruel). Then he asked Leitch if he knows who W.C. Heinz is (Leitch does) and whether he is aware that Heinz (a 93-year old journalist) is more qualified to write about sports than an anonymous blogger on Deadspin who uses the pseudonym Balls Deep. Bissinger scoffed at Balls Deep for using a stupid alias despite the fact that he’s a grown man who still uses the stupid nickname - Buzz. I’m not sure what his point was here, either that Deadspin should have somehow hired W.C. Heinz instead of Balls Deep, or that Balls Deep shouldn’t be allowed to write a blog because Heinz is the only person qualified to write about sports.

Bissinger then began reading an excerpt of an R-rated Balls Deep post before being cut-off by Costas. Bissinger turned to Leitch and shouted – “how can you be proud of that?” Costas then said – “let him respond”. This would have been a great opportunity for Leitch to tell Bissinger that nobody will ever force him to read a Balls Deep post and that he can read all the W.C. Heinz he wants. Fans visit Deadspin daily, whether Buzz Bissinger likes it or not. Instead, Leitch said that this is a different voice. Then Bissinger growled - “a disgusting voice”. Costas jumped in and says that Bissinger doen’t mean to imply that all sports blogs are disgusting, but smoke is coming out Bissinger's ears at this point and it is likely that he did, indeed, mean to imply that all blogs are disgusting.

Leitch says that running a blog is hard work and that not everyone will understand his viewpoint (he then pointed at Bissinger). Costas begins reading a series profane comments left on posts from Deadspin. It seems as though Costas doesn’t understand that there's often a dialogue between the blogger and the reader. He seems to be mostly perturbed by the dirty language written on the internet. Leitch tries to separate himself from the commenters, however, when he should have told Costas that he appreciates the feedback, even if it isn’t written with W.C. Heinz’ skill.

Costas then turns to Edwards, who couldn’t possibly look less interested in discussing any of this. He admits that he reads sports blogs occasionally, but stops short of taking sides on the issue. Costas asks Leitch if he would go through someone’s garbage to find information, somehow confusing Leitch’s sarcastic sports blog with the National Enquirer. Leitch says he would never do that, but Costas presses on. Leitch then tries to explain that most people leave their incriminating evidence on Facebook nowadays. Costas doesn’t seem to know what a "Facebook" is.

Bissinger wakes from his short rage nap and asks Leitch if he just wants to show athletes as “people who just party and fuck around”. Leitch stumbles though an incoherent answer when he should have said – “Yes, if they embarrass themselves in public, we will document it and our readers will appreciate us for that.” Again, Bissinger thinks that what he does is so superior to what Leitch does. That’s why Leitch should have told Bessinger to stick his Pulitzer prize up his ass. Friday Night Lights was made into a book, a film, and a TV show. He made a fortune off of that story and now he wants to deny people an opportunity to post their free sports blogs on the internet because he doesn't like their point-of-view. Now that's disgusting.

Costas then says that bloggers aren’t threatening the livelihood of TV people (like him), but are a threat to print writers like Bissinger. It never once occurs to Costas or Bissinger that the readers of Deadspin are men between the ages of 18 and 35, the target audience for the entire sports industry, and there's a bunch of them. Maybe they should look at the sports blog phenomenon more seriously, because HBO and ESPN and Fox will and they won’t care how great W.C. Heinz is if all the consumers want is Deadspin.

After 15 minutes of anger and vulgar language from Bissinger, he accuses Deadspin of being profane. Costas then quotes a blogger who isn’t present and asks Leitch to respond for the absentee writer who criticized sports writer Rick Riley (also absent) for having sold out too much to still be objective. Leitch reminds Costas that those words belong to someone else, but he does say that because Deadspin is an independent blog he doesn’t owe anything to anyone but the readers. Costas continues to quote the absentee writer and direct it to Leitch. At this point Leitch should have refused to speak for someone else, but he inexplicably insists that "no one is saying to get rid of all sports writers". I would have preferred if he reminded Costas that bloggers have never been invited into the mainstream journalists exclusive club, but the internet will level the playing field, and the sports fans will decide what they want.

Edwards then concludes by saying that bloggers are good, but they should only write positive stuff. Bissinger accuses Leitch of being like “Jimmy Olsen on Percocet”. Leitch failed to respond that Bissinger is like Bruce Banner just before he turns green. Bissinger then accuses Leitch of not being interested in facts. Sadly, Leitch failed to remind Bissinger that he’s an asshole, and that’s a fact.

I respect Leitch for behaving with dignity on the show while being accused of draining all the dignity out of sports journalism, but I also wish he would have defended himself and the sports blogging community more vigorously. I know he was verbally sucker punched by Bissinger and Costas, but he should have known they weren’t inviting him there to receive the Blogger of the Year Award.

I admit that before the show I’d never heard of, W.C. Heinz, or Buzz Bissinger. Now, I’m aware of what Deadspin does, but I'm not a fan, and I know Bissinger as “that douche-bag that hates bloggers”. Nothing was solved or made clear about the role of the sports blogger from this episode of Costas Now. All we learned is that old sports writers curse frequently when they are accusing other people of cursing too much, and that Bob Costas does not believe that sports fans should have a choice of what they want to read.

Here's the video: Old Men vs. Sports Blogging


  1. You hit this right on the head. Your blog entry alone points to how important yet intelligent blogs can be. None of these guys matter on the sports landscape, least of all Costas who sold out long ago. Since when did one persons point of view become unimportant because it was one person's point of view? Everybody counts under the First Amendment, and if we need to stake out a corner of the Net to do it so be it. The Net is the "Great Equalizer" and those who choose to ignore or dismiss it simply because it does not meet the stringent guidelines of school taught journalism (wake up Bissinger you prima donna wannabe) will ultimately fall away and dismissed themselves (couldn't happen to a nicer bunch!)

  2. Dear NBA,

    this is a great entry on the Bissinger/Leitch altercation! My name is Peter Ricci, and I am a college student and writer who currently contributes to 'Too Shy to Stop,' an upstart online magazine focused on culture and the arts.

    I found you entry, as it would turn out, while doing research for my own essay on the legendary 'Costas Now' episode. I focus first on how much I adore Bissinger, but quickly change focus to how wrong he is regarding his stance on blogging and why.

    If you have the time, check it out! I’d love for you to read it and comment.


    Peter Ricci

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